Hold On, Ariel Pink is Calling

Published on VMagazine.com August 06, 2010.

For the past decade, Ariel Pink (nee Rosenberg) has been releasing homemade albums out of Los Angeles that sound like relics from a phantasmal missing decade. Somewhere between the past and the future, Ariel’s music evokes heightened nostalgia for things that haven’t yet happened; an effect achieved through lo-fi tape recordings, a mouth-made rhythm section, and a smattering of drugs and hysterical malaise. Through this, the maestro Pink has managed to build a cult-like following among the download generation, while simultaneously garnering zero mainstream acclaim. Much of his material, released in album form via Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks imprint—or, more often, as CD-Rs over the internet—was recorded at the turn of the millennium and subsequently pushed out in the form of belated collections and reissues.

Having finally assembled a band of semi-permanence (with bassist Tim Koh, multi-instrumentalist Kenny Gilmore, and drummer Aaron Sperske), Ariel and the Haunted Graffiti—often referred to as “The Bats of Beverly Hills”— have recently released their first fully-conceived, properly recorded full-length, Before Today, via underground stalwart 4AD. Last month, V caught up with Pink backstage at the Mercury Lounge as they prepared for their set with music pioneer R. Stevie Moore opening the show. Since then, they’ve been keeping busy and are set to take the stage next week at OYA, Norway’s biggest music festival.

Hot on the heels of a lo-fi (“glo-fi”? Or is it “chill wave”?) eruption in pop music over the last year, credit seems to be spilling where it’s due and the underdog of pop music is finally getting his day.

Patrik Sandberg I want to ask, because it’s something a lot of people might not realize, is: were you planning to make a studio record like this all along? Have you planned this since the beginning?

Ariel Pink It’s like, I was trying to get a record deal. I’ve been trying all along. It happened to Chris Owens [of Girls], he fucking beat me. He beat all of us. Christopher Owens was the first one to become a superstar out of all our friends. He’s a great kid, a total fucking sexpot, really awesome. When I first met Chris he came to my show wearing a “For Kate I Wait” homemade patch.

PS I want to bring up an interview you gave in 2005, when you were on the cover of the L.A. Weekly. I think about that interview a lot because that was around the time that we first met. In it, you mentioned how the lo-fi aspect to your music is unintentional, and that all you wanted to do was to get into a real studio.

AP I wasn’t lying about that. I wasn’t lying. I mean, Paw Tracks was the only label that would put that out. I mean, I’d put it out, you know. You’d put it out. He’d put it out [gesturing to R. Stevie Moore], but most people wouldn’t put out records that sounded the way that they did… like The Doldrums. I mean, I’m crazy enough to make it, on the one hand.

Aaron Sperske Or, you’re crazy enough to think that it’s something that is WORTH putting out.

AP Right… The thought of that, like, occupying space and competing with Christina Aguilera is nutty.

PS And now it is. So many bands have emulated that recording aesthetic and directly cited bands like Haunted Graffiti and Holy Shit as their influences.

AP Pitchfork gave us a 5.4. They’ve given all my albums, like low, low scores. But I mean, if I change my underwear they’ll report about it, though. They generally give good grades to albums you’d expect for them to give good grades to, which suck, and they give bad reviews to albums that are good. But also, if they review your album at all they know they’re giving you a leg up. So, if they’re giving you a bad score it’s a good thing.

R. Stevie Moore They have a terrible reputation for how they treat artists.

PS Let’s change the subject.

AP See, everyone says that. Why? I love Pitchfork! I think Pitchfork is great! Pitchfork is… the new Rolling Stone. [Laughs.]

PS When you were first putting all of these songs to tape, ten years ago at Cal Arts, did you think you’d still be playing them a decade later?

AP I am still playing them. Did I think I would be? …Yeah. Back then? Yeah. I thought I was making something classic, and now I find the older the songs the more classic they get.

AS Do you think you will still be playing them twenty years from now?

RSM He’ll be playing my songs twenty years from now.

AP I was playing your songs twenty years AGO.

PS Will you be doing this when you’re 65?

AP Hopefully not, man. Hopefully, I’ll be dead. The fate of my genes is that in my family, everybody dies at 58 or 60. So smoke, drink, have fun.

PS Not all of them but a few of the songs on the new album have been previously recorded as different songs, or parts of other songs, like from Oddities and Sodomies.

AP But I never really released that one except for CD-R. Those don’t count. You don’t count.

PS Well, does signing to a bigger label hinge at all upon dipping into your old material? Do they have access to that stuff?

AP No, no absolutely not. They wouldn’t even know it if they did. I got one record with them, and we’ll see when we see if they want us back on their label. The back catalog was under a 5-year license, so I have The Doldrums back, it’s all mine. House Arrest I found out was a little longer than the other ones, so it’ll be mine in about two years. Worn Copy is mine again now.

PS What was it like getting to flesh out some of those older tracks in the studio?

AP There are no recording studios, man; it’s all a great big myth. I don’t know why they say that. I mean, you don’t need to be in a recording studio to get clean recordings anymore so it’s a moot point. I mean, record companies aren’t going to be spending money on studios. We recorded the drums for three days at the House of Blues, and then we just recorded the rest at, like, Tim’s house or my house.

RSM Everywhere is a recording studio!

AP We had a really good engineer at the drum sessions, Rik Pekkonen, who originally recorded Bill Withers, and Seals & Croft and Bread. That’s the kind of stuff you end up paying for.

PS The results are beyond what I had imagined. The record really sinks its claws into you and takes you for a ride. I couldn’t stop listening to it, I felt like I died and went to Ariel Disneyland or something.

AP Ha ha! Yeah, it’s kind of like being on “It’s a Small World After All” and you have to ride it over and over again and you can’t get out. Ideally you want to listen to it a few times off the bat.

PS Or a few hundred.

Now we’ve got to put something else out.

PS Let’s wait for this one to come out first.

Before Today is out now on 4AD. Photos by Sandy Kim.